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  • Ernesto L. Brea

On Overcoming Sexual Abuse


Victims of abuse often respond with a physical reaction known as the “fight or flight” response. The body learns to release adrenaline in situations that recreate the feelings of terror and pain, and as a result, this can become a pattern that the victim experiences again and again.

Possible side effects of sexual abuse

This is similar to the post-traumatic stress response that other victims of war or violence experience. Changing the body’s physical response may actually go a long way towards mending the emotional outcome.

Some of the emotional difficulties faced by sexual abuse survivors include fear and anxiety, feelings of betrayal, shame, guilt, helplessness, and powerlessness. The long-term consequences may include psychiatric disturbances such as nightmares, and other sleep disorders, flashbacks, depression, hallucinations, suicidal ideations, and addictions. In addition, victims may have difficulty in expressing healthy sexuality, developing strong and trusting relationships with partners and children, and victims may experience a degree of self-doubt that gets in the way of work, school, or leisure pursuits.

Victims may continue to suffer the pain of abuse and this can be manifested in undesirable outcomes such as alcohol or drug addiction, eating disorders, or self-harming or mutilation. Re-victimization can sometimes become a problem in that survivors often find themselves in situations similar to the original assault or repeat patterns that recreate pain and suffering. These complicated situations must be dealt with if there is going to be recovery.


What is important to consider?

One of the most intense difficulties many survivors of sexual abuse face is being able to trust again. Since so much sexual abuse is perpetrated by predators who know their victims, this situation can be especially poignant. It is imperative, however, that in the process of overcoming abuse, the victim must find someone to trust and confide in.

It may be difficult or impossible for victims to recall their experiences in detail, or for them to be able to find the words to express what has happened to them.


Victims are often encouraged to find a way to forgive the abuser or abusers. This can be a controversial topic. Some argue that the crimes are unforgivable by any standard, while others maintain that until forgiveness occurs, the victim must continue to carry the burden of the abuse. In any case, forgiveness is something that many cultures and faiths value, but it should not be a prerequisite for returning oneself to a healthy and happy life. Many victims are able to reclaim what they may have lost through the abuse of others.

Images on Creative Commons license courtesy of Storem, Ruurmo, Alyssa L. Miller

#depression #abuse #selfimage #sexualhealth #helplessness #therapy #counsellor #childhood #adiction #selfesteem #relationships #guilt #anxiety #shame #sexualabuse #victim

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